PISCATAWAY, N.J. – It took D’Angelo Russell just one year to grow a deep affinity for Ohio State and his coach, Thad Matta. So when Matta was relieved of his duties in a surprise June move, Russell didn’t mince words publicly when asked about the move.
Sunday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center, barely six months later, Russell showed not only that he’s moved on but that he’s behind first-year Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and his staff. After saying on a podcast that he didn’t think he’d ever go back, Russell was seated courtside to watch the Buckeyes move to 6-0 in the Big Ten with a 68-46 win against Rutgers.
With the Buckeyes leading 28-15 at halftime, he told The Dispatch that he’s cool with everything.
“I definitely reached out to them, just tried to get familiar with their faces and whatnot,” Russell said. “I think those guys have done a tremendous job with the new faces that have been around, keeping the organization going and representing well.
So great to have@Dloading at our game tonight!#BuckeyeFamilypic.twitter.com/hZHYR7NGGD— Chris Holtmann (@ChrisHoltmann)January 15, 2018
“It’s a good experience, coming back. Just showing my support with the team being in town. I just wanted to come by and show my support.”
The last one-and-done player of the Matta era, Russell was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten freshman of the year for the 2014-15 season. He was taken second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2015 draft and now plays for the Brooklyn Nets. Sunday, he was flanked by current teammate and Pickerington Central product and Michigan alumnus Caris LeVert.
Russell said he’s liked what he’s learned about the new staff and that he’s happy that Matta is in a good place personally after being fired.
“You go to college one time, so the opportunity to get familiar with those (new) guys is definitely big,” he said. “I was there for a short period of time, but through that time period I got to know Thad really well and that was great. Just to see he’s doing well and his family’s doing well, that’s great news.
“I didn’t know any of these guys, but I knew they came from a great program in Butler. I knew some faces over there, so that helped, but I just really wanted to reach out and make things better.”
After Ohio State finished off the win, Russell was greeted outside the visitors’ locker room by Holtmann. The two shook hands and embraced each other in a hug before Holtmann invited Russell into the raucous locker room, and his arrival was greeted by a loud cheer. Once the players were dismissed, Russell and LeVert stood in the corridor lined with gray cinder blocks and exchanged greetings with Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and even Greg Oden.
Holtmann said Russell’s presence was furthered by Ohio State director of basketball operations David Egelhoff. It was also aided by the fact that Russell is cousins with Butler forward Kelan Marin, whom Holtmann coached last season.
“I met him last year,” Holtmann told The Dispatch. “When (the Lakers) were playing, I think, the Pacers, he came and watched Kelan practice and I ran into him then. I didn’t know he was coming necessarily today. I thought he might.
“Honestly, I’ve been meaning to connect with him. We were texting this week sometime and I just want him to know he’s welcome back whenever.”
Bates-Diop said he enjoyed the chance to reconnect with an old roommate.
“It was good,” he said. “I actually saw him this summer, but it’s always good to see him. He came in and talked to us (after the game). It’s just good to see him and Caris, even though he played for Michigan.”